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The trouble with Nigeria!

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Why is Nigeria a tottering underdeveloped country-state even after sixty years of supposed independence and notwithstanding its vast production of highly educated manpower in all the facets of learning, know-how and industry? Indeed, why is Nigeria degenerating into a failed state that is characterised by mammoth insecurity, corruption and slide into a state of anomie?

The answer is that Nigeria has since its berthing remained what might be called a modern state that coexists with the ancient Fulani empire called the Sokoto Caliphate, which peddles disproportionate influence and power. The coexistence of the Nigerian State with a rival and competing caliphate is like having two captains in one ship! The situation breeds conflict and confusion especially since the two captains hold conflicting worldviews or viewpoints in virtually every aspect of statecraft, ideology, developmental strategy or what-have-you. When one is wanting the ship of state to move in one direction, the other is willing it to move in the opposite direction. It is confusion redefined! The rivalry between the institutions of the Nigerian modern state and the sultanate, therefore, makes it impossible for Nigeria to move in any given direction for any appreciable length of time. Thus the Nigerian ship of state is permanently adrift, without course or direction, like flotsam at sea.

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It is easy to see that for as long as the aforementioned status quo persists, Nigeria can never find its bearing. It cannot, therefore, have any meaningful growth, socially, economically and politically. In fact, the cost of the push-pull underhanded relationship between the two Nigerian centres of power – Sokoto and Abuja– is most enormous and biting! Therefore, for Nigeria to advance and develop into a country to be reckoned with, we must do away with one of these two. It is either we dismantle the Federal Government and turn Nigeria into a full-blown caliphate or we have the caliphate fizzle out like the other West African empires before it and hence have Nigeria function as the modern (federal or confederal) state that it is supposed to be. There is no middle ground! I repeat, it is either entire Nigeria subsumes into the subsisting Fulani empire or the caliphate is reduced to the status of other erstwhile Nigerian empires, kingdoms, etc., so that the attempt at building Nigeria into a modern state or democracy can proceed meaningfully because for as long as the two aforementioned trends and power centres persist, forget it, Nigeria will not get anywhere!

It is usual that whenever a modern state is established or begins to sprout, the existent empires, kingdoms, etc. within the realm collapse or fizzle out to make room for the emerging state. Take a look at West Africa. The great powerful kingdoms within the domain have all gone under. In Nigeria, the once-powerful empires of Benin, Oyo, Kanem-Bornu, and all the great kingdoms and coastal principalities have all declined in the face of the emerging Nigerian State. The question is: Why then has the Fulani Empire of Sokoto Caliphate remained practically untouched by these developments but has remained in murderous competition with the emergent Nigerian State? Two reasons stand out, namely; (1) the impact of the British Indirect Rule system of administration in Colonial Northern Nigeria; and (2) leadership dichotomies and disunities in the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria.

It is now history that as a result of the existence of strong indigenous political institutions, the multiplicity of languages and differences in culture and customs in Nigeria as well as difficulties arising from the paucity of European personnel to man the new colonial administration, Lugard adopted the system of Indirect Rule, which has always been a popular policy of imperialists throughout history, to administer the people. Onwubiko defined Indirect Rule in Nigeria “as a system of administration under which traditional rulers were allowed to rule their people under the supervision of British officials.”

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The introduction of Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria meant that the Sultan and the Emirs, as potentates, were allowed to continue running the Fulani empire as well as extending the territorial space of that caliphate to areas of the North where Fulani rule was not previously existent. In effect, British colonial rule expanded the Caliphate’s horizon, power and coverage to virtually the entire territory of Northern Nigeria. The British also helped preserve the Fulani empire by using its power to put down revolts and insurrection from indigenous tribesmen, territories and vassals that tried to or were poised to fight off the Fulani yoke for their respective freedom and independence throughout the colonial period.

Secondly, the Nigerian crisis of the 1960s had the Igbo and the Fulani Caliphate at its centre of belligerence; it was a clash between Igbo egalitarianism/democracy and Fulani feudalism/jihadism. The issue then as now was, by and large, the offensive and oppressive attitude of the latter. From inception, the Middle Belt was divided in its outlook to the crisis. Having been pampered and cultivated by Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Middle Belt military officers sided with the Caliphate while their civil political leaders saw the crisis as an opportunity to deal a final crushing blow on the Caliphate with whom they as Middle Belters had wrangled over the centuries. Accordingly, the latter, led by men like Joseph Tarka and Solomon Lar, sought an alliance with the Eastern Region for a final showdown that would end the Caliphate’s feudalism and apparent menace. But their soldiers were the ones in power at the material time, not the civilian politicians, and seemed to control the political destiny and direction of the region. Moreover, as a Middle Belter, Ambassador John Musa, has recently observed, “Joseph Tarka’s agitation did not gain the momentum to reach other leaders [in the area]. Our Middle Belt leaders in the Military were not politically conscious to empower us.” This leadership dichotomy in the Middle Belt might have affected Ojukwu deeply.

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The role his Middle Belt military colleagues were playing in the crisis apparently made Ojukwu not to take the civil political leaders of the area seriously. Hence when the latter made overtures for the political alliance to the Eastern Region, Ojukwu kept them at bay. Obviously, in the face of the activities of the Middle Belt military officers – Yakubu Gowon, T. Y. Danjuma, etc. –Ojukwu must have seen the alliance overtures as a huge joke! Similarly, the disunities, distrust, chicanery and mutual suspicion amongst Southern leaders and ethnicities made alliances and joint action difficult, hence Ojukwu’s inclination towards secession as the only solution to the lingering crisis. As a result of this secessionist posture, it was no surprise that Ojukwu rapidly segued Eastern Region’s or Igbo isolationism in Nigerian politics in 1967 and hence encirclement in the war that came later. Yet, had there been a modicum of working alliance, even if amongst the Southerners only, the caliphate would have been isolated and forced to pipe low!

But it has to be mentioned that Brigadier Hilary Njoku, a seasoned military strategist and tactician of blessed memory, had tried to impress it on Ojukwu that should the Nigerian crisis of 1966/7 degenerate into war, the best option for the East was to fight that war as Nigerians and not as a breakaway state. He, therefore, counselled that the East should strengthen its support base within the country through alliances and wait for any eventuality. No doubt if Ojukwu had kept the struggle within the ambit of Nigeria, the emergence of the great Nigerian alliance against Biafra would not have taken shape. Ultimately, some semblance of understanding would have emerged following the agency of the National Reconciliation Committee (NRC) which had already gotten Gowon to lift his economic blockade against Eastern Nigeria on May 20, 1967, as a prelude to removing the two or three clauses that were not part of the Aburi Accord and for which Ojukwu had rejected Gowon’s Decree No. 8, to enable the implementation of the Aburi Accord in its purest form. This would have saved us from fighting a war and the subsisting queer rivalry between Nigerian federalism and Fulani totalitarianism, to bring national cohesion, development and progress. I, however, trust that Nigerians have learnt enough from the past to manage the present crisis in a way to achieve commendable result!
Dedicated to my friend, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu of blessed memory. 

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